Saturday, January 12, 2008

Give Freedom a Chance

Images (Jay Reiter/MCT) appear in this McClatchy article:

By WILLIAM DOUGLAS - McClatchy Newspapers

MANCHESTER, N.H. - They come from across the country - and the political spectrum - to work in New Hampshire for Rep. Ron Paul, captivated by the philosophy and personality of the man who's become the Republican Pied Piper of the 2008 presidential campaign.

Paul is low in polls here. He's got only modest campaign funds. But his long-shot campaign seems unmatched when it comes to the organization, dedication and enthusiasm of its volunteers here, where the first primary will be held on Tuesday.

Perhaps none is more dedicated than Vijay Boyapati. He's the founding father of Operation Live Free or Die, an effort to get 1,000 volunteers to come to New Hampshire and live in youth hostel-like conditions to wave Ron Paul signs along highways, canvas neighborhoods and work phone banks.

Boyapati's organization is independent of Paul's campaign and borrows its name from New Hampshire's motto. Its mission is to lift libertarian Paul to a surprise victory Tuesday - or at least a strong finish.

"I know how important New Hampshire is in the election - it's the first primary and decides who's viable," he said. "If Ron Paul wins New Hampshire, it changes everything. It changes the perception of Paul's viability and the perception of the campaign to more than just an Internet phenomenon."

Boyapati, 29, knows a little something about the Internet. He quit a well-paying software engineering job at Google in Seattle and raised more than $50,000 from 3,000 donors to launch Operation Live Free or Die - online, of course.

"I could have taken a leave of absence, but I want to go all the way to November," he said. "I didn't quit my job to lose."

Most of the cash has gone to renting 10 large houses throughout the state, each sleeping up to 24 volunteers, who are existing on caffeine, junk food and their dream of having a president who will strictly interpret the Constitution, return America to the gold standard and get U.S. troops out of Iraq. What little money's left after paying the rent has gone for supplies.

"I cleared out Wal-Mart," Boyapati said. "I bought every single air mattress in Wal-Mart."

Paul, campaigning in Manchester on Saturday, said he was grateful for Boyapati's effort but mildly shocked that he quit his job and moved cross-country for him.

"When I heard about that, I said `Are you OK?'" Paul said.

Boyapati, an Australian-born Indian who became a U.S. citizen last year, got hooked on Paul after watching a televised debate where Paul stated that terrorists attacked the United States because it's interfering in other countries' affairs.

The comments angered former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, who demanded that Paul retract them. Paul refused.

"To say that when you have a crowd baying for your blood, that's a courageous thing," Boyapati said.

In October Boyapati put out an online call for volunteers to come to New Hampshire. Sam Wolanyk, 37, of San Diego, signed up.

"When I got here on Dec. 10, I was supposed to stay only until the 18th but then I saw how intense it was, so I called my wife and said I wanted to stay through the primary," Wolanyk said. "She said come home for Christmas. I got home Christmas Eve and came back the day after Christmas - with her."

Kim Wolanyk, 38, a self-professed liberal Democrat, thought her husband had become a tad obsessed with Paul. But the more she heard her husband talk, and the more she realized how angry she was at congressional Democrats for failing to end the Iraq war or kill the Patriot Act, the better Ron Paul sounded.

Now she's waving signs along highways and living in a group home - and loving it.

"I didn't know there were other people out there who thought like me, I didn't know they felt the way I felt," she said. "Ron Paul - I don't agree with him on everything, but he's a man of integrity."

Boyapati hopes Operation Live Free or Die has a big future.

"When we change everything in New Hampshire, we'll go to South Carolina and Nevada," he said. "This is only the beginning."

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